Smokey Joe's Cafe

By staff April 10, 2009

It's a night of nostalgia with the Leiber-Stoller revue Smokey Joe's Cafe.

By Kay Kipling 

The musical revue Smokey Joe’s Café doesn’t pop up too frequently on area stages—somewhat surprising, given the boatload of highly recognizable Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller tunes it carries.


The show is onstage at the Manatee Players Riverfront Theatre now, and it offers people of a certain age plenty of opportunities to recall the days when they first heard hits like Poison Ivy, Kansas City, Hound Dog and Love Potion #9. It’s a fairly bare-bones production, but that suits the show’s fast-moving tempo, and there is plenty of energy onstage in the nine-member cast and among the band’s musicians, who sit squarely in the center of the stage while the performers sing and gyrate around them.


Inevitably with revue shows, it seems, one ends up choosing favorite moments and songs, since there’s no real storyline or characterization to discuss. So here are a few: the touching ensemble number Neighborhood, which starts off the show and puts us in the right nostalgic frame of mind; Keep on Rollin’, which gets most of the male members of the cast on the move; Don Juan, with Jaszy McAllister as a frankly mercenary wench dragging around a mile-long red feather boa; and the Act I closer Saved, a rousing gospel number led by Shirley Johnson, who’s got a powerful vocal style.


Her style is also demonstrated in Act II on Hound Dog and Fools Fall in Love; the former especially is effective in the original female version, done before Elvis got his vocal cords on it. Little Egypt, with the guys all awestruck by the moves of a temptress we don’t see but they do, is fun, and the Act II closer, Stand By Me, is always a crowd pleaser.


All of the cast members get to solo, and they all have vocal talent, although some are more comfortable with their movements (choreographed by director Harry Bryce, mostly in familiar ’50s and ’60s dance gestures) than others. Frequent changes of costumes keep us visually alert and help differentiate character types. On opening night, some sound issues occasionally hampered the proceedings; hopefully those will be quickly resolved.


Smokey Joe’s Café runs through April 26; call 748-5875 or go to
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